Helen Duncan was a medium who was exposed as a fraud. If her story ended there then she would have no place in this blog. What guarantees Helen Duncan a place here at the Demoniacal is that even though she was proven to have committed fraud she may very well have had a remarkable gift. Duncan was also one of the last people to have been arrested and jailed over British anti-witchcraft laws.
Helen Duncan claimed to be a medium, a person who can communicate with the dead. Duncan routinely led seances in which she claimed to make contact with deceased loved ones and manifested "ectoplasm" from her orifices. Unfortunately, Duncan was proved to be a fraud on several occasions. In 1931, Duncan was put through rigorous tests sponsored by the London Spiritual Alliance. Duncan failed the tests and was deemed a fraud. The renown skeptic, Harry Price, also tested her and concluded she was a fraud. In fact, Price wanted to have Duncan x-rayed to see if she was faking materialization of ectoplasm by regurgitating items like cheesecloth. Duncan became hysterical and ran out into the streets. In 1934 a skeptic infiltrated one of her seances and grabbed ectoplasm that Duncan allegedly manifested. It turned out to be cloth. The police were called and Duncan was charged and convicted of being guilty of affray, which is similar to the U.S. version of disorderly conduct. So let there be no confusion. Helen Duncan was indeed a fraud. Now, whether or not she had an actual gift is another matter.
In 1941, during a seance, Duncan began to speak about a ship called the HMS Barham that had recently sunk. Duncan claimed to be in contact with the spirits of some of the men who died aboard the ship. Amazingly, the ship did sink and it's sinking was kept confidential. To this day there has never been an acceptable explanation for how Duncan knew of the ship's sinking. When the Navy became tipped off as to what Duncan was saying they sent two lieutenants to infiltrate the seances and spy on her. Based upon their reports, Duncan was arrested again. To make matters worse, Duncan was busted performing more fraud. The authorities threw the book at her and charged her with seven counts, one of the counts being the obscure Witchcraft Act of 1735. Duncan was found guilty of one count and spent nine months in jail. Upon her release Duncan did not walk the straight and narrow. She was arrested on final time in 1956. Duncan died shortly thereafter.
It is painfully clear that Helen Duncan committed fraud. However, the question remains, did she have a special gift? Could Duncan actually communicate with the dead? Was Duncan's trickery and deception merely done to spice things up, draw in crowds, and accentuate a small core of truth? We will probably never know.
Helen Duncan's granddaughter, Mary Martin, is currently petitioning a pardon for her grandmother, whom she believes is innocent.